XFL reboot will have universal challenges, fourth-and-15 ‘onside kicks’

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Spring football, once again, is back.

The rebooted XFL season will kick off Saturday, ushering in a 43-game slate that will conclude with the league championship in mid-May. 

There will be 40 regular season games, two playoff games and one championship game. All games will be available to watch on a combination of ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and FX. The playoffs will take place on April 29 and 30 and the XFL Championship Game will take place May 13. 

Three new cities — Las Vegas, Orlando and San Antonio — will be hosts to XFL teams, which is different from the 2020 campaign. Those cities join Houston, Seattle, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Texas, as host cities after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the XFL to suspend operations and file for bankruptcy.

Here’s everything you need to know to get you ready for the kickoff of the 2023 XFL season.

What can fans expect for the 2023 XFL season?

During XFL games, several coaches and players will be mic’ed up, similar to the 2020 XFL broadcasts. In-game interviews with coaches and players will also continue, and there will be the option for commentators to communicate with vice president of officiating and rules innovation Dean Blandino during broadcasts to discuss important calls and challenges.

Broadcasts will also look to tap into sports gambling interest and will showcase the closing spread and over/under at all times during games, with the look to expand coverage as the season wears on.

‘We’re going to grow sports betting with the XFL as Vegas grows,’ ESPN coordinating producer Bryan Jaroch said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. ‘Our understanding is that Vegas needs to see a few weeks of football before they expand to prop bets and live lines and other things. … As Vegas expands, we will expand as well. We will be very aggressive in talking about sports betting during the games.’

What are some of the notable XFL rule changes?

The XFL will still retain many of the core rules and regulations that fans are used to with NFL play, though there are some notable exceptions. The most interesting is that the league is offering coaches the chance to challenge, one time per game, any possible play, including judgment penalties like pass interference and holding. 

‘This has never been done before at any level of football and something we have talked about during my time with the NFL,’ Blandino said. ‘I’m really excited and intrigued to see how they’re going to use that and when they’re going to use it, what type of play.’

Another change that fans may celebrate is that fumbles that occur inside the field of play and exit the end zone will not result in a turnover and a touchback, giving the defending team possession of the ball from its own 20-yard line. Unlike the NFL, the team that fumbled the ball will retain possession from the spot of the fumble.

‘It’s a rule that comes up every once in a while during the college season, during the pro season and everybody throws up their arms,’ play-by-play commentator Tom Hart said. ‘Social media loses their collective minds. It’s the worst rule in football, so they took it out and I think it’s absolutely genius.’

What about kickoffs in the 2023 XFL season?

In an attempt to encourage more returns on kickoffs while maintaining player safety, only the kicker and returner on kickoff plays will be allowed to move, until the ball is caught or after the ball has been on the ground for at least three seconds. This will be similar to the way the kickoff was in the 2020 XFL season. At the start of the kickoff, both teams will be lined up 5 yards apart.

Additionally, teams will have the option, instead of onside kicks that are typically lower percentage plays, for one down to convert a fourth-and-15 play to retain possession and keep the offense on the field.

‘The last thing I want to do is see the game come down to a kicker,’ analyst Greg McElroy said. ‘With a 12-13% success rate, I’m not super fond of the onside kick in an end-of-game situation. The fourth-and-15, gotta-have-it situation as an alternative to the onside kicks, it’s something I’m very excited about.’

What are the teams for the 2023 XFL season, and who are the head coaches?

There will be eight teams, split into two divisions:

XFL North

D.C. Defenders (Reggie Barlow)

Seattle Sea Dragons (Jim Haslett)

St. Louis Battlehawks (Anthony Becht)

Vegas Vipers (Rod Woodson)

XFL South 

Arlington Renegades (Bob Stoops)

Houston Roughnecks (Wade Phillips)

Orlando Guardians (Terrell Buckley)

San Antonio Brahmas (Hines Ward)

What are the games for the 2023 XFL kickoff week?

Saturday, February 18

Vegas Vipers at the Arlington Renegades: 3 p.m. ET on ABC

Orlando Guardians at Houston Roughnecks: 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, FX and ESPN Deportes

Sunday, February 19

St. Louis Battlehawks at San Antonio Brahmas: 3 p.m. ET on ABC

Seattle Sea Dragons at D.C. Defenders: 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN Deportes

This post appeared first on USA TODAY